Cycling uphill

This page offers some general comments on cycling uphill. Please see cycling up hills and mountains for more specific and detailed training advice and techniques.

The people I cycle with are always saying that cycling ability depends more on your state of mind and your positive attitude than on sheer strength. It requires the mental strength to keep pushing yourself when things get tough - usually because the ride is longer, faster or steeper than you are used to.

For a long time I didn't believe them - cycling uphill is a challenge for your legs and breathing however postive you might feel - but it is true to say that if you see your local hills as insurmountable obstacles, that is how they will stay.

And there is an opposite side to the coin - the pleasure of actually cycling all the way up a difficult hill, or doing it faster and more easily than ever before, is one of the great pleasures of being a cyclist. Hence - cycling is actually more of a pleasure when it includes some uphill sections! I didn't believe this for at least a year after resuming cycling, but now almost always ensure a ride includes a couple of good hills, if I am to really enjoy myself. I feel as if I have cheated if I have a good average speed but didn't have any big challenges along the way...

Age, by the way, is not an excuse - there are very many 60 year olds near us who can cycle very well up the hills of the region!

When you start (or resume) cycling, even a small hill is a major challenge. The good news is that your legs rapidly become strong enough that you can tackle 'easy' hills, if you make sure that each time you get out on your bike you include a small hill or two. Don't approach the hill feeling concerned that a hill is coming up, but with a plan to get it over with as fast as possible. Ride gently for a few kilometres before the hill, so that you are not already worn out before you start - the whole goal of your ride is to get up that hill, and do it well, even if your average speed for the day is below average.

Likewise, aim for a steady pace on the hill. This is easier when you have ridden up the same hill a few times. It is very easy to set off too fast and become exhausted too early - better to set off too slowly and have a burst of speed for the last section if you have some energy left.

Feeling good? Cycle gently back down the hill and do it again!

After a while (months rather than days) you will notice two things:

1) you will find a rhythm at which cycling uphill is actually not so terrible, even pleasant, as long as you maintain a steady speed that you know you can maintain to the end. It doesn't matter at all if it is slow - it will get quicker!

2) the second and subsequent hills in a ride are easier than the first - the first hill of the day is always the hardest, but having done that your heart rate is up, your legs are warmed up, and the next hill, even if it is longer and steeper, will usually be easier.

The main thing to remember is that cycling uphill is hard for everyone, but it is also the part of cycling that gives the greatest sense of achievement, and all of us can do it - and it gets much easier with practice!

Remember, our main article at cycling up hills and mountains has much more detailed advice and suggestions.